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Research: Glass Cliff effect

Here a little bit of research on women, creativity and gender inequality

©Maria Carmona

The glass cliff refers to women who are promoted into leadership roles during times of crisis and are set up for failure.
The term is derived from the term glass ceiling, which refers to an invisible barrier that prevents women (and other demographics) from rising beyond certain positions in an organization.
If a woman is promoted, companies quickly shed the blame if she is unsuccessful. Companies look good when they promote women to leadership roles so even if they fail, the company still earns a reputation of being progressive. If women in these roles fail, companies are free to reappoint males to their positions without a second thought. These situations make this phenomena stay relevant. There are many reasons why women are promoted to more precarious leadership roles than men. One is the notion that a struggling company will likely result in a shorter upper management tenure so the position itself is risky. Placing a woman in that position gives the company someone to blame if she fails to pull the company out of its downward spiral.

A bit of history

In 2004, University of Exeter researchers Michelle K. Ryan, Julie S. Ashby, and Alexander Haslam studied the 100 companies included in the FTSE 100 Index, which consists of the 100 companies listed on the London Stock Exchange (LSE) with the highest market capitalizations. According to the researchers, companies that appointed women to their boards were more likely to perform poorly in the preceding five months. They claimed that sexism motivated those in power to appoint women to these precarious positions because they don’t want to risk tarnishing a prominent man’s reputation with failure.

There is no link between leadership potential and gender. By keeping women out of top leadership positions, companies are missing out on some of the most qualified and talented leaders. Additionally, by allowing the glass cliff phenomenon to persist, organizations create an environment where these female leaders struggle to perform to the best of their ability.

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